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Labyrinth provides outlet for spiritual renewal

March 21, 2001

The labyrinth has long been used as a tool for reflection, prayer and relaxation, and although similar to a maze, a labyrinth has only one route—a circuitous path to the center and out again. Carleton’s Skinner Memorial Chapel is now home to a portable canvas labyrinth, patterned after the one set in the stone floor at the Chartres Cathedral in France. The labyrinth is open on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. until Thursdays at 1:30 p.m., and is being used by individuals and small reflection groups.

The construction of Carleton’s labyrinth was initiated by Marge McCarthy ’51, who has been helping to plan a permanent outdoor labyrinth on campus. Marilyn Larson, a Northfield resident who is an expert in labyrinth design and construction, painted it on location in the Chapel.

"Being here allowed her to see that bringing some of the colors of the stained glass windows into the labyrinth would make the labyrinth both unique to the Chapel and fully a part of it," College Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum said. "As one person commented, ‘It’s like a window on the floor.’"

Participants may walk, run, crawl, dance and vary their pace as they make their way through the labyrinth. In the center, which is in the shape of a six-petaled flower, walkers stand, sit or kneel while they meditate or pray. It is suggested that participants enter the labyrinth with their palms facing down, to let negative things drop away. Upon reaching the center, they can turn their palms up to receive what is needed, then put their palms together in thanks.

Historically, labyrinths were painted and chipped into caves and rock walls, in burial sites and marked out on the landscape. Christians adopted the form as a symbolic journey when the Crusades prevented safe passage to the Holy Land.

"There is some obvious symbolism of ‘going within’ or centering, following the twists and turns of life, and then moving back out or returning to the world with one’s new insight or sense of peace," Fure-Slocum said.

Written by Sarah Maxwell